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Should we be scared of Artificial Intelligence?

Back in February, Cansu Babacan and Diederik Veelo spoke at Soho House about the trends and technology set to change this decade. The common thread? Artificial Intelligence, and how it’s set to rapidly learn, grow, and change the way we work and live. So, should we be afraid?

Technology automation is nothing new for society.

Our world has been advancing and innovating for years, and along the way, we have invented solutions to make our lives easier. But with every innovation come certain concerns. When the first movie screening took place in 1895, the approaching train onscreen caused the audience to run away in fear. Nowadays, Netflix is almost synonymous with relaxation. Humans are quick adapters.

However, people tend to see technology innovation as a threat because it’s replacing something that already exists. It’s about change, and change makes many of us uncomfortable. New technology means we might need to go from being the master to the student, or even that our job is automated and replaced by a machine.

So it’s understandable that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the scarier innovations to hit this century. Its limits are unknown at this point, and controlling it can pose an issue if not properly thought through. But even though it’s often portrayed by robots and aliens in movies, it’s nothing to be afraid of. In fact, it will probably just make our lives better. From automatic ticket machines to elevators and smartphones, technology surrounds us everywhere and it’s constantly improving. AI just does this learning on its own.

New technology means we might need to go from being the master to the student, or even that our job is automated and replaced by a machine.

People are the power

What we tend to forget is that people are an integral part of effective AI operations. And when they’re not, the results can be both awful and incredible. Take Amazon’s recommendation engine. AI-powered technology is being used to generate marketing emails for customers by providing product recommendations based on past sales data. In theory, the algorithm seems sensible. But in practice, it has major downfalls. With no human intervention, the algorithm doesn’t distinguish between sending repeat purchase prompts for products like urns that may, well... be a one-off.

AI on its own still doesn’t provide us with results as ideal as we would want them to be, and at this point, a learning algorithm won’t replace a human entirely. Instead, introducing new technologies to your teams and informing them on how they can consume these innovations is a better strategy. However tempting as it can be to replace your workforce with an algorithm, the results might not always be the best.

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AI isn't just taking jobs, it's saving lives

Instead of replacing us, AI can help make service solutions even more effective. Take what’s known as telemedicine, which is the general care of patients over the internet. In a simpler user case scenario, you might have online therapy or mindfulness through websites such as Better Help. In some cases, it can offer a diagnosis to those who may not otherwise have access. For instance, a company in Brazil called Portal Telemedicina offers medical support to villages in the Brazilian rainforest by using an ‘AI-assisted diagnostic service solution’. The company uses a portal that connects to a database of millions of images, where AI-powered platforms identify the symptoms, diagnose emergencies, and connects patients with a doctor who is experienced in that area. In some cases, patients can connect with more than three doctors to get to the best result and avoid human error. This is a perfect example of how artificial intelligence and emotional intelligence can work together to solve problems that would otherwise not be possible to solve.

The COVID-19 pandemic we’re experiencing now has proven just how important telemedicine is, and how quickly people can adapt to new ways of working. Many governments started researching the use of telemedicine in this situation and implemented remote working for some doctors, to avoid them getting sick. Online patient-doctor consultations are quite a controversial topic in medicine, and raise many questions around whether these consultations are as effective as in-person doctor visits. The COVID-19 pandemic has put telemedicine in a new light and allowed doctors to explore this option further in an effort to lift the burden from the overloaded health care systems.

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Agriculture of the future

Beyond health, AI is also helping people in impacted industries like agriculture. After a crop-destroying caterpillar was discovered in Africa in 2016, millions of cornfields got infected and the food security on the continent became significantly threatened. That’s when the Farmers Companion App was developed. It’s a free app that enables farmers to identify if a crop has the disease, at which stage it’s at, and then advises on which pesticides they should use. The developers are still working on the app so it will be able to identify more diseases and pests. This shows how machine learning can create real solutions for real people, not just for the tech world.

Without having to manually search for the shot, creatives and video editors can save a lot of valuable time on repetitive work and can focus on more creative tasks.

AI makes time for creativity

In Ambassadors Lab, our vision is to find solutions to complex problems in the creative production industry. In 2018, we introduced a new AI-based feature to our digital asset family Cube, which uses Google API image recognition technology to scan through thousands of videos and tag them to help users find content easier. Without having to manually search for the shot, creatives and video editors can save a lot of valuable time on repetitive work and can focus on more creative tasks. It also helps make the platform much faster and easier to use for brand managers who could also benefit from Cube’s features. Most importantly, people are still part of the solution – in creative, deep-thinking roles – and are not taken out of the equation.

We all have a different knee-jerk reaction to changes, but AI shouldn't be seen as a threat. Human and machine collaboration is what makes innovation so successful.

So should we be scared of AI?

AI will have an undeniable impact on our lives. It goes without saying that it will change ways of working and affect certain industries, but it won’t all happen in one foul sweep. We saw it even with the world’s biggest company Amazon: algorithms can’t work alone. Instead, it’s best to introduce technology innovation such as AI to people as a means of bringing efficiencies to their workflows. Cutting out time spent on searching and filing and bureaucracy, so we can use our brainpower in a way that nothing else can. For emotional intelligence, connection, creativity and problem-solving. We all have a different knee-jerk reaction to changes, but AI shouldn't be seen as a threat. Human and machine collaboration is what makes innovation so successful. ‘Robots’, as they say, can only make us stronger.